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Sacramento State News - California State University, Sacramento
September 26, 2007

“Americana Indian” exhibit spotlights
erroneous perceptions of Native Americans

The stereotype associating Indians with medicine has been prevalent for years, notes exhibit curator Brian Baker.
The stereotype associating Indians with medicine has been prevalent for years, notes exhibit curator Brian Baker.

Images relating to American Indians are everywhere— cigarette packages, soda pop bottles, movies and sports teams, to name a few. But these fictionalized, commercial representations steal the identity and mock the cultures of Native Americans, replacing the historical with something that never existed, according to Sacramento State ethnic studies professor Brian Baker, coordinator of a new campus exhibition.

“There’s something about these stereotypes that are so ingrained and imbedded in culture,” Baker says.

“The Americana Indian – American Indians in the American Imagination,” will run Oct. 8 (Columbus Day) to Nov. 27 (through Thanksgiving) in Sacramento State’s Anthropology Museum, Room 1000, of Mendocino Hall. There will be an opening day reception from noon to 2 p.m. Thereafter the exhibit will be open noon to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

Baker, a Bad River Chippewa, has assembled more than 150 pieces showing how the “Americana Indian” has been constructed in the American imagination, and how contemporary culture continues to be shaped by such perceptions.

One of the most pervasive icons, the Indian chief in full “warbonnet” or headdress, is a prime example.

When students are shown that picture, they immediately understand it’s an “Indian,” Baker says. But when shown a picture of a California Indian in traditional dance regalia, they can’t process it, they don’t know who it is, he says. Despite the fact the “warbonnet” was used by a small fraction of Indian bands, it’s become an overwhelming symbol for all Native Americans. The power of the stereotype, Baker says, replaces the reality.

There’s also a historic contradiction in America’s relationship with Indians. At a time when Native Americans were discouraged from practicing their religions and speaking their languages and forced to assimilate with the larger society, non-Indians were playing Indian, which continues to be popular today, Baker says. Whether it’s the Boy Scouts or the Campfire Girls, or adult groups such as the Rainbow Tribe or Earthwalkers, the practice fosters misconceptions while making the emulation appear as real. “It’s all about playing Indian with stereotyped words, grammar and names,” Baker says.

“Part of what I want people to do is pay attention to some of these aspects and how their images about American Indians are rooted in a culture that promotes these wrong impressions,” he says.

For more information, call the Anthropology Museum at (916) 278-6067. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.


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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
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